Pam Garrington describes how her school sees its role as lying at the heart of its community.
I’m really passionate about NGA’s 10-year anniversary campaign, Growing Governance which is about governors and trustees stepping up and setting the educational agenda in 2016 and beyond.
For me, this means having an ambitious vision for our primary school, which we refreshed recently. We first considered our challenging context, where 74% of our pupils receive free school meals and 52% have English as an additional language. Then we started to think about how to transform their lives; this in itself was a rewarding experience.
We had a governor away day when we worked with the senior leadership team to decide how to move the school forward. We’re in a large city, Birmingham, so the question for us was how to make our school an integral part – a microcosm – of our city. Some governors went to a community event and mingled with a range of local people and afterwards we thought about how to capture the pride these people demonstrated for their local area in our revised vision.
It was also important to look at the educational context. We identified a number of challenges ahead and we are trying to turn those challenges into opportunities. We are moving into partnership with another local school to set up a multi academy trust that embodies our values. We will increase our capacity for rapid school improvement, develop a strong aspirational ethos and an inspiring curriculum to provide the very best educational opportunities for our children.
We felt that our school must be at the heart of our community and that we must help to accelerate community development and raise aspirations. Our pupils are also people’s sons, daughters, neighbours, customers and friends. We can’t treat them in isolation. Nor is our school to be thought of as a building inhabited for 40 weeks a year between the hours of 9am and 3pm. So our vision is for a transformative school, not only for our pupils but for everyone in the area. We want to address real social problems through education and look out for people’s needs.
To that end, we have set up an active group of parent volunteers who regularly help in class and with gardening on site as well as attending phonic workshops, so they can get a better understanding of how to help their children at home. We have lots of events planned, including a World Day, an Eid picnic, an Arts Week and activities to celebrate our cultural diversity.
“As a headteacher I fully support NGA’s campaign. With their vision, our governors have shown the whole community that our school is for them and by talking about what we are trying to achieve and the challenges we’re encountering in the process, we’ll hopefully achieve it together.” - Fiona Aris, headteacher, Firs Primary School
We are creating Open Doors, a community space where parents can meet and we have surveyed parents to see what skills they have and how they can support an after-school health club, and also to ascertain what support they themselves might need. We are developing links with local businesses; they have a stake in our community, so it’s important for us to engage with them.
As governors, we realised that our role must be to champion the vision. We’re the guardians of that vision. It’s a hugely important role but also incredibly exciting. Like many schools, we’ve been through tough times: staff retention issues, a bad Ofsted judgment and unhappy parents. But now I’m pleased to say we’re on a journey of rapid improvement.
My advice to governors and trustees is to really work on developing a shared vision with school leaders so you know where you’re going together.
Pam Garrington is a governor at Firs Primary School in Birmingham and a national leader of governance